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Major Film Studios to Offer Movie DownloadsVideo-On-Demand to Finally Arrive for Internet Users
Sony has convinced four other major film studios to join it in offering video-on-demand to Internet users, promising to bring legitimately downloaded movies into the homes of consumers with broadband connections for the first time in history.
Sony, Warner Bros., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Paramount and Universal are all signed up for a single new service, which is the first move of the major studios to allow access to their vast archives of motion picture content, offering newer releases and older movies as well. Although the system will work as one, the studios each will have their own release schedules and price structure.
In order to protect the studios' skyrocketing DVD business, the group announced the movies would be released only after the DVD and VHS releases have been in video stores for 45 to 50 days. The studio group also announced that the new service, code-named "MovieFly," would be available later this year or early next year. In order to compete with pay-per-view services already in place, the studios are expected to charge roughly $4 per movie for the download service.
Even though other major studios like Twentieth-Century Fox, Disney and DreamWorks SKG are not among the partners setting up the massive new service, they will also be allowed to use the service to make their content available to consumers, a spokesman for the studio group said.
With an eye on the growing broadband market, studio heads expressed a desire to prevent piracy by offering a legitimate and convenient way for movie fans to download films. While many industry observers note that films are already being bootlegged on the Internet, many on the same day as their theatrical release, the major studios are trying to avoid another Napster-like situation where even if consumers wanted to pay for content, there would be no outlet for them to do so. "I think the majority of consumers believe that copyright has value and that if they have a pay vehicle to watch movies on the Internet, they will pay for it," said Yair Landau, president of Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment. "We want to give honest people an honest alternative."
The new venture is characterized by the studios as a first step toward "true video-on-demand," where users can watch any movie they want, whenever they want. With this first iteration of the service, the films will be available for download only onto personal computers, or televisions linked to an Internet connection, but eventually video-on-demand service is expected to include cable television and other delivery systems.
Toward that goal, Sony announced its plan to develop set-top boxes that will be used to download films just for TVs, without needing to use a separate computer. For now, the plan calls for movie rental that will allow the film to stay on the customer's hard drive for thirty days, but 24 hours after its first viewing it will self-destruct, preventing further viewing or passing along to others. During that 24-hour period, the movie can be viewed as many times as the viewer wants, and the film can be paused, rewound, and able to execute all the other start/stop functions available on a DVD or cassette.
Until now, because of worries about consumers making perfect digital copies of movies and distributing them worldwide for free, the major studios have had serious reservations about offering up their libraries and new releases for download on the Internet. But new DRM (digital rights management) encryption schemes have instilled confidence that users will not be able to distribute the films beyond their own hard disks.
Charlie White has been writing about new media and digital video since it was the laughingstock of the television industry. A technology journalist and columnist for the past seven years, White is also an Emmy-winning producer, video editor and shot-calling PBS TV director with 27 years broadcast experience. Talk back -- Send Chazz a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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